PARIS – Following Joel Robuchon’s lead into the world of the more casual any-time-of-day gastronomy with his Left Bank Atelier, respected chef Alain Dutournier has tossed his hat into the ring. Pinxo, a clean, modern, all black and white restaurant near the Place Vendôme on the Right Bank, offers a nice breath of fresh air, a new approach. Open seven days a week from noon until midnight, the restaurant will help break France’s traditional strict dining hours and customs.
With a bar open to the small, compact kitchen, and a casual atmosphere, the restaurant is designed to accommodate those who want a single quick bite as well as diners who are willing to wile away an afternoon or evening sampling Dutournier’s creations. The chef is a proud son of France’s southwest and a staunch defender of all its products, and so it is no surprise to find the region’s specialties honored here. From the marvelous beef “race blonde d’Aquitaine” to tiny chipirons (baby squid) and on to a cool piperade (eggs, red peppers, onions, tomatoes and ham), the brief menu takes us on a fine tour of the region.
The wine list, wisely, is arranged not by region or color but by price, with bottles ranging from 28 € for a Domaine de Deurre Côtes du Rhône Villages Vinsobres 2000 to 85 € for a Volnay 1er Cru Marquis d’Angerville 2000. Wines by the glass range from 5 to 7 euros.
I loved almost everything about the place and assume some of the nicks will be taken out in time. Service was hesitant and at times just wrong (bringing items we had not ordered), and some ingredients just didn’t have that ultra-fresh flavors we expect of Dutournier.
Miniature heads of lettuce the size of a Belgian endive are all the rage right now, and he kicks in with a welcoming Salades Croquantes, a generous mix of a trio of crunchy hearts of lettuce, sliced mushrooms, shallots, radish sprouts and tomatoes. So good to know that green salad is back, but too bad the tomatoes had that stale, I’ve-been-sitting-around-too-long flavor.
His soup – better than almost anyone’s mom – is brilliant, a superb mix of herbs, mushrooms, a touch of ginger, and fresh beans, all warming and energizing. And I literally devoured his tiny spring roll of fresh crab, a fine rendition of an Asian classic.
I am a huge fan of the sweet, crunchy, tiny squid known as chipirons and no one does it better than someone from France’s southwest. Here they are cooked “a la plancha,” or on a flat griddle, seasoned with a touch of ginger, mildly spicy pepper and garlic chips. Alas, the garlic chips were bitter, marring an otherwise delightful dish .
When you go, do order the beef filet, aged to perfection and cooked perfectly rare. The meat is served with an unusual combination of cubed Charlotte potatoes bathed in a healthy tapenade, or black olive purée.
With the meal, we loved the Jurancon Sec Clos Uroulat Cuvée Marie 2000, an always appealing white from the Petit Manseng grape, and priced at 35 €.. Most items – which can be mixed and matched – range from 7 to 22 €.
Dutournier came up with the restaurant’s name from the verb “pintcher,” which means to capture something with a quick gesture., and not like many have assumed, the Spanish pinchos or tapas eaten with one’s fingers.
Alain Dutournier has not been sleeping. This summer he took advantage of the holiday period to also re-decorate his Michelin two-star restaurant – Carre des Feuillants -- transforming the large space off of Place Vendôme into a sober, modern, calming spot. The food is as good as ever, with a fabulous terrine of foie gras, an updated version of the classic wild hare lievre à la royale, and an oyster starter – that included a superb “terrine” of fresh oysters and a little tartare of algae that is worth a trip all on its own.
9. rue d’Alger
Telephone: 01 4 020 72 00
Fax: 01 40 20 72 02
All major credit cards. Open daily. A la carte, from 20 to 60, including service but not wine.
Carre des Feuillants
14, rue de Castiglione
Telephone: 01 42 86 82 82
Fax: 01 42 86 07 71
All major credit cards. Closed Saturday and Sunday. 58 € lunch menu, 138 € dinner menu. A la carte, 150 to 200 € including service but not wine.